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Steel v. Travelers Property Casualty Insurance Co.

United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Savannah Division

March 15, 2018

DAWNIQUE STEEL, Plaintiff,
v.
TRAVELERS PROPERTY CASUALTY INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant.

          ORDER

          WILLIAM T. MOORE, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

         Before the Court is Defendant Travelers Property Casualty Insurance Company's Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. 26.) For the following reasons, Defendant's motion is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART. Plaintiff's claim based on water damage to the interior of the home will proceed to trial. However, Plaintiff's claim based on the loss of personal property and damage to window shutters is DISMISSED.

         BACKGROUND

         In early June 2015, Plaintiff Dawnique Steel's home suffered roof damage from a hailstorm.[1] (Doc. 26, Attach. 1 at 2.) At that time, Plaintiff's home was covered under an insurance policy issued by Defendant. (Id.) On June 16, 2015, Plaintiff's husband, Art Steel, notified Defendant of the damage to the roof and associated water damage to the interior of the home. (Doc. 28 at 3.) Soon thereafter, Mr. Steel also informed Defendant of hail damage to the shutters and screens, as well as water damage to personal items that were stored in the attic. (Doc. 28, Ex. E at 1.)

         Defendant's claim adjuster made an appointment with Mr. Steel to inspect the damage on June 18, 2015. (Doc. 26, Attach. 2 ¶ 7.) Just prior to the scheduled time, Mr. Steel notified the claims adjuster that neither he nor Plaintiff would be able to attend the inspection, but that the adjuster was free to inspect the property. (Id. ¶ 8.) Because neither Plaintiff nor Mr. Steel was present, the adjuster was unable to inspect the interior of the home. (Id. ¶ 10.) For safety reasons, the adjuster was also unable to access the roof of the home. (Doc. 26, Attach. 1 at 2.) As a result, a second inspection was scheduled for July 1, 2015. (Id.)

         At the second inspection, the adjuster confirmed damage to a majority of the roof. (Id.) On July 13, 2015, Defendant issued to Plaintiff a payment of $10, 601.62 as the replacement cost for the roof, minus depreciation and Plaintiff's deductible. (Id. at 2-3.) Once again, however, the adjuster was unable to inspect the interior of the home because neither Plaintiff nor Mr. Steel was available to attend the inspection. (Id. at 3.)

         On August 11, 2015, the adjuster conducted a third inspection and was able to access the interior of the home. (Id.) The adjuster observed water damage to the ceilings of the master bath and upstairs landing. (Id.) The only personal property the adjuster was able to inspect was a damaged television. (Id.) Based on this inspection, Defendant revised the replacement cost for the damage to $19, 320.04, informing Mr. Steel of the revision on August 26, 2015. (Id.) According to Plaintiff, the adjuster was unable to inspect the remainder of the damaged personal property because Mr. Steel had disposed of those items due to their wet and mildewed condition. (Doc. 28 at 3.)

         Mr. Steel complained that the revised estimate was too low. (Doc. 26, Attach. 1 at 4.) Specifically, Mr. Steel informed Defendant that the carpet upstairs was damp and would have to be replaced, and the estimate did not include the damaged shutters and ruined personal items that were in the attic. (Id.) On September 8, 2015, the adjuster informed Mr. Steel that he was waiting for documentation regarding the additional claimed losses. (Id.) On September 16, 2015, Mr. Steel responded that he was working on generating an estimate for the various clothes and shoes that were damaged. (Id.) Ultimately, Plaintiff did not provide that information until May 5, 2016 in the form of a demand letter from an attorney. (Id.)

         On October 5, 2015, Defendant issued another payment for additional roof repairs and damage to the residence's interior. (Id. at 4-5.) On October 14, 2015, Mr. Steel informed Defendant that he observed mold in the area of the interior water damage and adjacent air vents. (Id. at 5.) Mr. Steel also complained that there might be mold under the upstairs carpet. (Id.) Defendant scheduled another inspection for October 23, 2015, which was cancelled by Mr. Steel. (Id.)

         Following receipt of the May 5, 2016 demand letter, the parties agreed to another inspection, scheduled for May 27, 2016. (Id.) On that date, the adjuster observed mold in an upstairs linen closet and damage to twenty-seven window screens. (Id.) The adjuster was unable to examine the damaged shutters because Plaintiff replaced them prior to the inspection. (Id.) Defendant requested another inspection, this time by experts to determine the source of the mold in the linen closet. (Id.) This request and several follow-up calls went unanswered. In the interim, Defendant issued an additional payment of $678.15 for replacing the damaged window screens.

         On October 13, 2016, Plaintiff filed suit in the State Court of Chatham County. (Doc. 1, Attach. 1.) In her complaint, Plaintiff alleges[2] that Defendant breached its contract of insurance with Plaintiff by "failing to address the damages to Plaintiff's personal and real property." (Id. ¶ 15.) Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332, Defendant invoiced this Court's diversity jurisdiction and promptly removed the case to this Court. (Doc. 1.)

         As part of discovery in this case, Defendant was finally able to have its experts inspect the mold in the linen closet. (Doc. 26, Attach. 1 at 6.) According to their report, the mold and water damage in the linen closet was probably caused by a leaking drain pan for the air handlers, not the original hail damage to the roof. (Id. at 6-7.) The dark discoloration was determined to be particulate build-up rather than mold. (Id. at 7.) The house did have elevated levels of airborne mold in places, but Defendant's experts concluded that those levels were unrelated to the hail damage.[3] (Id.)

         Defendant now seeks summary judgment. In its motion, Defendant argues that Plaintiff has failed to establish that the hail damage to the roof caused the interior water and mold damage. (Id. at 9-10.) Also, Defendant maintains that Plaintiff failed to comply with the terms of the insurance policy because Defendant was never permitted to inspect the damaged personal property and shutters (id. at 10-13), and Plaintiff failed to mitigate her damages (id. at 13-15), [4]

         In response, Plaintiff presents a series of arguments that are only loosely responsive to Defendant's motion. First, Plaintiff contends that the interior water damage is covered under the policy, either as damage due to a storm or damage caused by accidental discharge from an air unit. (Doc. 28 at 6-10.) Second, Plaintiff maintains that the chain of emails, documents, and other evidence establishes that Plaintiff attempted to cooperate with Defendant to investigate and ...


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